As nationwide unemployment tops 10%, recent grads face increasing competition from laid-off professionals.  Adding to the bad news, the National Association of Colleges and Employers released a report stating that companies expect to hire 7% fewer new grads than they did in 2009.  The silver lining is that the new estimate represents an improvement from the previous year‘s data.  With these dubious prospects weighing on their mind, students attending the Early Career Transitions track at the annual convention had many questions for the panel of engineers representing a diverse cross-section of the profession.

  • How do you distinguish yourself in the eyes of potential employers?
  • Am I better off getting an MBA or Masters of Science degree?
  • Will it help me get hired if I am LEED accredited?
  • How do managers make hiring, promotion and firing decisions?
  • Will belonging to professional societies help me get a job?

The answers understandably varied based on each individual’s personal experience.  Frequently, the right decision is a question of maximizing your potential and playing to your strengths.  However, there was broad consensus that being active in professional societies and/or government advocacy helps your career.  The reason is perhaps not as obvious.  Few, if any, employers simply check for a list of associations.  The benefit of belong to an organization like ASCE is the opportunity to meet potential employers and develop business skills.

  • How do you improve your public speaking skills?
  • Why should I get involved in city government policy debates?
  • What is the difference between public and private employers?
  • When should I manage my team from a distance?
  • Who are my regional ASCE representatives, and why should I care?

Showing up to a meeting or conference is a good start, but simply listening to the presentation will probably leave you dissatisfied in the end.  Those who gain the most from the society are most actively involved.  You cannot overcome a fear of speaking without being forced to stand in front of your peers.  You cannot become an effective manager without practice.  ASCE offers a non-hostile environment to develop many important skills.

  • How do I make the social adjustment to living in a new city without friends?
  • Will older colleagues with families associate with me?
  • What should I expect when changing firms or roles within the same company?
  • Why shouldn’t I burn bridges after a bad employment experience?

ASCE has younger member groups in most major cities.  Many of their members have shared the experience of being the new kid on the block.  Adjusting to the workplace, no matter how rewarding the paycheck, is difficult.  Within that peer group you will find better advice than on a national panel or blog.

Nevertheless, I am going to try over the next several months to find experts to discuss the questions posed by students at the annual convention.  We may not always be able to get it right, but hopefully we’ll be able to provide the important resources and a reminder that there is an ASCE network eager to answer your questions.

What other questions do you have about your early career transition?

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